Sunday, September 27, 2015

Dallas Love Field Airport (KDAL) gate fight heats up with court hearings

Travelers could see changes in flights at Dallas Love Field depending on whether a federal judge in Dallas agrees this week to let Delta Air Lines keep flying there — at least for a while.

A decision also would affect Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, the dominant carrier at the city-owned airport that is letting Delta use one of its gates there.

Whatever happens, it will be only temporary relief for an increasingly complex, contentious fight that began late last year.

“The city brings this action to resolve the disputes, to enable it to perform its obligations and to prevent disruption of service to the flying public,” the city of Dallas said in its lawsuit seeking guidance on how to deal with the situation.

The battle heats up Monday and Tuesday, when U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade is scheduled to hear arguments from Southwest, Delta, Dallas and the U.S. Department of Transportation on whether to keep Delta flying at Love Field until the parties settle their dispute.

The city, Delta, Southwest, the Transportation Department and the Federal Aviation Administration — all parties to the lawsuit — declined to comment Friday.

Delta now operates five daily flights to its home base of Atlanta from one gate at Love Field under an agreement with Southwest, but that deal ends Wednesday.

Southwest wants to use the gate to accommodate the expansion it’s carried out since federal flying restrictions at the airport were lifted last October. Since then, it has expanded from 118 departures to 16 cities to 180 flights to 50 cities.

Also since then, Delta has been fighting to get a permanent foothold at Love Field.

This is the second time a request is being made to extend Delta’s operations beyond a scheduled deadline. The airline’s right to fly out of Love Field was set to expire July 7, but Southwest, at Kinkeade’s urging, agreed to let Delta stay until Wednesday.

Southwest leases 16 of the 20 gates at Love Field from the city. In January, the airline said it would gain two more gates in March through a sublease with United Airlines, which left the airport. At the time, Delta was using one of United’s gates for its flights to Atlanta.

“The city, Southwest and Delta indicate that they have discussed possible methods for resolving the case but have been unable to reach agreement,” Kinkeade said in an August court filing. “The parties are directed to continue to work in good faith.”

Here’s where the parties stand based on their court filings and statements.


The airline wants its gate back.

Southwest says its lease with Dallas gives it “preferential use of the Love Field gates.” It also argues that a 2006 agreement by the airline, the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and American Airlines regarding future service at Love Field “prohibits the DOT from compelling the city [of Dallas] to force Southwest to accommodate Delta.”

Southwest further argues that Delta, which also flies out of D/FW Airport, shouldn’t be allowed to operate out of two airports in the same market.


Delta wants the judge to approve a preliminary injunction that will let it continue flying at Love Field. The airline also said Southwest should lose the two gates it leases from United and the judge should make them available to any airline, not just Delta.

Delta argues that the terms of the Love Field lease agreements and various provisions of federal law give it the right to “long-term accommodation at Love Field.” It also disputes Southwest’s single-market claim about Love Field and D/FW Airport.

City of Dallas

The city wants guidance in what to do with leases at Love Field. It first asked the DOT for guidance in December regarding Delta’s request for long-term accommodation of its five daily departures at Love Field.

“Mandates from two federal agencies under color of federal law and conflicting legal claims and litigation threats by several airlines under federal law have put the city in an impossible situation that only this court can resolve,” the city said in its original lawsuit, filed in June against Delta, Southwest, three other airlines that fly at Love Field, the DOT and the FAA.

In a July court filing, the city said it expects Southwest to win the fight at Love Field.


The federal agency and its FAA division last week asked the court to release them from the case or put it on hold until a separate but related legal proceeding in Washington reaches a conclusion. That suit, filed by Southwest in a federal appeals court in Washington, asked the court to clarify a December letter from the DOT to Dallas regarding Delta at Love Field.

The federal agencies also are investigating why the city hasn’t taken action at Love Field.


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